Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dillinger is dead

Seventy-five years ago today, outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The Biograph was a movie house for many years after Dillinger bought it, following a screening of Manhattan Melodrama. I saw a lot of films there when I was a Northwestern student, and recall its annual screenings of the William Powell-Clark Gable-Myrna Loy hit on this date, at Depression-era prices. The theater itself is 95 years old this year, and today is a live venue for the Victory Gardens Theater (now housing the excellent play Blackbird, with William L. Petersen). I assume the bronze plaque commemorating this day in history is still in place.

As for Depp's Dillinger--I liked Public Enemies well enough, but wish Bryan Burrough's superb book had been made into a more expansive HBO miniseries, as originally intended. It's certainly a return to form for Michael Mann, after the catastrophic Miami Vice movie, but I'm not all that crazy about his form these days: The soundtrack, which favors gunshots and an irritatingly "contemporized" score over dialogue, is something of a chore, the digital cinematography sometimes lapses into instability, and the movie is "over-cast," with too many good actors lost in the shuffle. (One who isn't is Stephen Lang, superb as a taciturn law enforcer.) Mann is clearly aiming at the immaculately designed purity of a Jean-Pierre Melville picture like Le Samourai, but the Dillinger story wasn't the right vehicle. Still, it's handsome, has rousing sequences, and is blessedly adult. But I think Warren Oates' 1973 Dillinger may have been closest to the mark.

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